Zen TABOO Review

 

 


Re: Zen Taboo Amplifier Beta Test Circle
Reply #159 on: 03/25/05 at 8:43pm
 

Part 1 of 2...
 
OK so Paul Bui and I had a two hour listening session last night. I asked Paul if he would post his impressions/thoughts but I"m not sure if he will do so. He said he doesn't want to inject his biases towards competitive products.  My translation - he likes the non-Decware amp(s) and speakers he's now using better... which is self-evident since that's what he's currently using! However, he hasn't sold his Decware mono's so what does that say to you? Wink  You should note that Paul is a prodigious buyer/swapper of components, in his pursuit for ever-better (or better put, more pleasing to HIM) sound. Not that that's a bad thing... I think MANY of us are in that boat, if sporadically. I will say, with all due respect to Paul that I don't share his exact (current) preferences, but I respect his ear, and that he knows what he likes/wants sound-wise... Now, here are my observations of last night...
 
Room: Paul has prodigious room treatments; something on the order of 20 Decware diffusors.
 
Speakers: Bob Brines FTA-2000; single driver Fostex w/alnico mag's, no crossovers, TL cabinet.
 
Source: Shanling SACD T200, modified (don't know to what extent), with variable output (yuck! me no like that)
 
Amps: Decware CSP pre completely stock including tubes, Decware TABOO
 
Wire: Single ~7 ft. strands of cryo Cat6; mucho fat power cables to amps, not sure what the fancy interconnects were.
 
Power: Some fancy power conditioner (Paul has lots of fancy stuff Smiley )
 
 
First my impressions of the FTA speakers since they had a big impact on the results of the audition.
The FTA's about 90db/1w efficient.  They are all about midrange, and they seem to do that quite well.  Lush, detailed, georgeous mid's. I'm talking SMOOTH T..O..N..E.  Nice as that is, they do sound a bit rolled off on the high-end to me, loosing some top-end "air" and making for less clearly defined imaging (at least compared to the FE206E I'm used to hearing).  The soundstage was there, but these speakers did not disappear the way I have heard Ed's Horns disappear, and the way I have heard reports of the HDT's and others do the same.  To me, they sounded smooth, polite, and good all around, not unlike other traditional high-end, and usually high priced, speakers I have heard. They reminded me of a pair of Lynn Olsen Ariels I used to own.  In short, I liked them, but they didn't WOW me.  Correction: there was one Patricia Barber song played where they sounded pretty impressive.  A few Oystein Sevag cuts sounded quite silky, detailed (microdynamics), lovely.  Hopefully my word choices/adjectives are painting the picture I wish to convey. I guess I'll never land a review job working for Stereopile Grin
 
TABOO w/no preamp: Going Shanling CDP direct to the TABOO didn't work at all. The volume was way too low for the FTA 90db speakers even with the Shanling volume all the way up and the TABOO volume pot all the way up. Supposedly the Shanling, at least un-modified, has a variable output of 0-2.2 volts. I'm wondering if the mods Paul had done to this lowered this, or if there was some chance the variable out wasn't turned all the way up - Paul was holding the remote control, while I was changing the volume on the TABOO, but I give him the benefit of that doubt.  
 
Related question:  What's with the two pots/dials on the top of the TABOO near the front of the amp?  I tried turning them all the way left and right, with no perceived difference in sound or volume.  For the audition I left them at 12 O'clock.

- Brad

Re: Zen Taboo Amplifier Beta Test Circle
Reply #159 on: 03/25/05 at 8:43pm
 

Part 2 of 2...
 
TABOO + CSP: plenty of volume. We listened with the TABOO volume all the way up and the CSP at about 1 O'clock.
 
With this combo there was a slight hum that Paul noticed (standing next to the speaker). I could not hear it seated at the couch 8 or so feet away. I had to walk over to it and put my ear close to the speaker to hear it.  
 
The sound was very good overall with this combo. I heard Paul say at least 3 or 4 times things like "mmm..lovely", "very nice", etc. And even though the soundstage/imaging was very pleasing, it seemed to be lacking some detail, and a narrower soundstage, than what I heard through my FE206E's in simple open baffles. But Paul had said he didn't like the brightness of the 206 driver so that tells you where he's coming from.
 
One thing obvious to me in this particular setup (souce + speaker combo), the TABOO can sound as good in the smoothness, tone, and midrange categories as any SE or PP 300B amp I ever heard.  And that given it's cost, and power output, this should give potential 300B SE buyers pause for thought, especially given the cost of good 300B tubes.  The smoothness was a surprise to me as I was expecting a more bright/brash presentation from a (pentode) amp.  It will be interesting to see if other TABOO beta listeners share this opinion.  
 
I'm not quite ready to say which one I prefer overall, the CS or TABOO. I'll have to go back once again, to the Zen CS and FE206 drivers for comparison listening (more later on that).  
 
As of now, I can say I don't hear anything wrong with the TABOO.  It sounds pretty damn good to me.  For sure, I liked it better than Paul's current favorite amp - even on his speakers - which I don't think bring out the best in the TABOO.
 
It obvious but I'll say it anyway. Everything I said here is *my opinion*, as honest as I can be given my ears, taste, and unavoidable biases.
 
I'm looking forward to others' reviews with other sources and speakers.
 
Thanks Steve for the opportunity to hear the TABOO!

- Brad

Re: Zen Taboo Amplifier Beta Test Circle
Reply #182 on: 03/26/05 at 4:34pm
 

TABOO is on it's way to Tim.
 
Some final thoughts after going back and listening again to same cuts on the CS + CSP. At my place with 999ES and FE206EM drivers in OB's.
 
I do hear more of a "bloom" to the sound with the CS than with the TABOO.  The TABOO seems to have some more detail, perhaps because of the less bloom sorta clouding things up (is this that "euphonic" thing people attribute mostly to Triode mode amps?)
I'm sure there will be some people who think the TABOO sounds "dryer" than the CS, lacking this extra bloom, and/or that the TABOO doesn't sound as smooth as the CS.  I think the TABOO sounds smooth and detailed without sounding dry. Others may prefer to not have the CS+CSP bloom since it can be thought of as inaccurate and can obscure some imaging and low level details. Btw, I'm not talking about the kind of bloom most 300B amps have. The CS+CSP slight bloom is a lesser degree than what I remember of 300B amps.    
 
To me, I sorta got the feeling the TABOO sounded more "live like", like I was listening to a direct mic feed or a live performance as apposed to just a REALLY good sound system.  Also for some reason I caught myself tapping my foot to the rythm/bass more on the TABOO.  Is this what they call PRAT?  It could be the extra power of the TABOO.
 
In a nutshell, I think the TABOO does pretty much everything that CS can do and more - in the microdynamics,PRAT, and "live like" areas. The only thing the TABOO does less is the "bloom factor".  Which you prefer, the CS+CSP or TABOO+CSP will be a matter of taste and speakers, which is always the case, isn't it?
 
Given I and Paul couldn't hear the difference in changing the TABOO feedback controls, it may require a higher resolution system combined with a better listening room to really hear what the TABOO is capable of and if there are bigger differences between the CS vs TABOO than what I could discern.  
 
My 10 cents. Looking forward to others' impressions.

-Brad

 



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